By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
West Plains head football coach Matt Perkins may be new to his role with the Zizzers, but it didn’t take him long to realize his current star running back – senior Brayden Lidgard – had something special.
“Eighth grade was my first time really getting a chance to see him,” said Perkins. “We came up the Ozarks Football League in the early days of it and we’d play Springfield schools and he was still that guy. Before he had been producing at a high level against smaller schools, then he started doing it against bigger schools and you could tell he was going to be special.
“As a freshman he was our scout team back and he would make the varsity defense look foolish. We had a great back then (Keegan Hoopes) and used to tell him that Brayden was going to break his record next year as a sophomore.”
And, Lidgard did just that.
Back-to-back 2,400-yard seasons not only established a new school-record, but it has Lidgard just 2,176 yards away from becoming just the seventh player in MSHSAA history with 7,000 career rushing yards. He’d join former Fair Grove and Missouri State legend Caleb Schaffitzel as the only other local player on that list. That’s not it, Lidgard could also move into the top-10 in 100-yard games, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and all-purpose yards.
“It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Lidgard. “I’ve heard people mention it but I try to block it out and just focus on the work that we’re doing right now.”
While he modestly downplays what he’s done over the last two seasons, the numbers don’t lie.
4,824 rushing yards
72 rushing touchdowns
601 receiving yards
7 receiving touchdowns
10 200-yard games
2 300-yard games
Without doubt, Lidgard will go down as one of the most productive and accomplished backs in the history of the Ozarks. But, what makes him special isn’t just his raw athletic ability, but how humble the star is in his day to day life.
Ask him about his stats and he’ll credit his offensive line. Ask him about his program’s success and he’ll mention the team’s defense.
Lidgard doesn’t even think about his own numbers entering a season, saying “I don’t set personal goals, whatever happens just happens.”
It’s not a front, it’s just who Lidgard is naturally.
“The number one thing with his uniqueness is the kind of person he is,” said Perkins. “You see kids that are good at their sport or activity and they walk the hallways with a certain demeanor, but Brayden is just another guy and he’s low-key like that all the time. What separates him is the kind of character he has. He’s extremely humble.”
Entering his senior year – with a new head coach and entirely new offensive line – life will be different for Lidgard.
Division One talents like Jett Sexton and Jake Swope are gone and, while Perkins is a guy that likes to run the football much like his predecessor Steve Ary, Perkins isn’t afraid to mix up more spread formations and personnel which could lead to opponents playing “Where is Waldo” when West Plains is on offense.
“We’re looking at doing several different things, which could include basing out of an empty set,” said Perkins. “It would give us more flexibility in what we can do with him offensively and with the rest of our personnel. We have also put in some pistol formation which will still allow us to run inside and outside zone that we haven’t done before.
“He’s got to be more involved in the passing game. Last year he put up some great receiving numbers so we’ll try to build on that and get him touches in space.”
Lidgard, who wears No. 5, could end up being used similar to previous notable No. 5s like USC star Reggie Bush and Lidgard’s personal favorite, Stanford Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey.
The McCaffrey comparison isn’t one that is new for Lidgard, but one that he certainly doesn’t take lightly.
“I love watching him play and how he works,” said Lidgard. “I watch film of him and try to take what he does and apply it to my game. He can run the ball and catch it as well and I think I also do that. I try to expand the horizons and impact a game in as many ways as possible so I’m not just limited to one thing.”
But for now, the low-key senior is focused on the fall and what could be for his team.
West Plains is 20-4 over the last two seasons, including a state quarterfinal run last season. Lidgard is hopeful this edition of the Zizzers can take the next step forward.
“I’m excited,” said Lidgard. “I love Coach Perkins and believe he works hard at what he does. We aren’t letting off the gas by any means. We want another deep playoff run.”